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MLB’s reported Arizona plan has too many hurdles to work

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If you can’t high-five, the plan can’t be alive

MLB Opening Day Postponed Due To Coronavirus Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Just because Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association are talking and bouncing ideas off each other doesn’t mean that the two sides are anywhere close to an agreement on when the 2020 season might start up, nor that the current floated plan about consolidating in Arizona makes any logistical sense at all.

Over the last few days, various national reporters noted that MLB and the union were mulling over a plan that would have all 30 teams begin the regular season in Arizona, utilizing Chase Field and the 10 spring training fields in and around the Phoenix area.

Ken Rosenthal at The Athletic was the first to mention this, on Saturday, then followed up Tuesday morning, with both pieces doing well to outline the many obstacles that could scuttle a deal:

“One official described the idea as still in the “concept stage,” adding baseball is reluctant to move quickly. The union, too, is hesitant to offer a premature endorsement, wanting more information on logistics and details, sources said.

Also this from Rosenthal, which is odd given that dozens of players at a time will be working within close proximity to one another, but sure avoiding a hand slap will fix everything:

The plan, as part of its messaging, even would include players forsaking celebratory high-fives to avoid physical contact and possible transmission of the coronavirus.

Ronald Blum at the Associated Press reported on the Monday conversations between MLB and the union, and included a quote from Scott Boras on the logistical advantages of having all teams in Arizona, where the furthest ballparks are separated by roughly 50 miles.

“It allows for immediacy of a schedule, where you might be able to begin it and televise it, provide Major League Baseball to America,” said Scott Boras, baseball’s most prominent agent. “I think players are willing to do what’s necessary because I think they understand the importance of baseball for their own livelihoods and for the interest of our country and providing a necessary product that gives all the people that are isolated enjoyment.”

The post that seemed to gain the most traction came late Monday night from Jeff Passan at ESPN, who offered several details that — and this is important to note — are still in the discussion stage:

Players, coaching staffs and other essential personnel would be sequestered at local hotels, where they would live in relative isolation and travel only to and from the stadium, sources said. Federal officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the National Institutes of Health have been supportive of a plan that would adhere to strict isolation, promote social distancing and allow MLB to become the first professional sport to return.

...

The May return date for the plan depends on a number of concerns being allayed, and some officials believe a June Opening Day could be more realistic, sources said. Most important would be a significant increase in available coronavirus tests with a quick turnaround time, which sources familiar with the plan believe will happen by early May and allow MLB’s testing to not diminish access for the general public.

The part in all this that makes the most sense is having all the games in Arizona. Obviously this isn’t the ideal outcome, but given the alternative (no baseball until 2021, at least), if you are going to try to make it work why not have all the teams in a centralized location, for ease of travel to and from games.

Every side in this has incentive to want to play, for both competitive and financial reasons. But there are so many hurdles to clear for this to even work, that not even Edwin Moses in his prime could complete the course. Safety of everyone involved — players, coaches, umpires, team personnel, stadium workers, broadcast and media folks — is paramount, which makes this seem like a no-go.

Even if we accept the baseball aspect of this, that there can be some good that can come of this plan, sequestering everybody away from their families for several months — or the alternative, if a player’s family is with them in Arizona, would they be able to go anywhere outside of the proposed hotel-to-stadium loop? — seems makes this a nonstarter.

Take it from a player, Brewers pitcher Brett Anderson:

There is also something to this home-to-stadium limitation that gives the a very The Running Man feel, which is creepy. Players are humans, not just chess pieces to maneuver at a whim for our amusement.

And what about the scores of people that are needed to make this work, the ones who aren’t making six and seven figures. If the players all stay at hotels, does every employee working at the hotel have to be sequestered, too?

Even if this Arizona plan was feasible, it depends on there being a massive increase in testing. And it can’t happen until all sides feel like everyone involved could be kept safe. Major League Baseball said as much Tuesday morning in a statement.

“MLB has been actively considering numerous contingency plans that would allow play to commence once the public health situation has improved to the point that it is safe to do so. While we have discussed the idea of staging games at one location as one potential option, we have not settled on that option or developed a detailed plan. While we continue to interact regularly with governmental and public health officials, we have not sought or received approval of any plan from federal, state and local officials, or the Players Association. The health and safety of our employees, players, fans and the public at large are paramount, and we are not ready at this time to endorse any particular format for staging games in light of the rapidly changing public health situation caused by the coronavirus.”

On the safety aspect, last week the White House estimated the death toll from the coronavirus would rise to between 100,000-200,000. That’s a wide range, but also devastating, given that the reported coronavirus deaths in the U.S. just reached 10,000 Monday.

We all want baseball to come back. But it can’t come back until things get better, generally. And it can’t come back until everyone involved in the game, even tangentially, can reasonably be kept safe. It’s good at the league and the players are talking. But at this point it’s just at the idea stage, nothing more.